2010-06-10 / News

Island teachers’ group won’t sign on for ‘Race to the Top’

By Eileen M. Daly

Rhode Island’s Phase II “Race to the Top” application has been submitted without the support of the Jamestown Teachers Association and its parent organization, the National Education Association of Rhode Island.

JTA Co-presidents Cynthia Cherney and Carolyn Petrocelli declined to be interviewed, but agreed to provide the following written statement, upon the condition that it be printed in its entirety:

“At this time, the Jamestown Teachers’ Association has not signed on to RTTT.

We have been asked to sign a document that is not complete. For instance: Rhode Island’s RTTT proposal fails to define a process by which teachers will be evaluated; the I-Plan, which is the state’s process for teacher certifi- cation, is being eliminated, yet no new system has been defined.

RTTT money does not replace funding for existing programs or close gaps in the Jamestown School budget, but is earmarked for new, additional programs and staff which must meet the requirements of RTTT. Once the RTTT grant money is depleted, the Jamestown taxpayers will be responsible for funding these supplementary programs.

With the state and RTTT promoting even more privately managed charter schools, Jamestown will be negatively impacted as funds will be diverted to those students who attend and are transported to charter schools.

After attending and participating in numerous forums, symposiums and town hall meetings, our decision to not sign on to RTTT, at this time, has been based on careful consideration of the data presented and the discussions that followed.”

Peter Gingras, one of several assistant executive directors at NEARI, compared being asked to sign on to the current RTTT application to being asked to “sign a mortgage without knowing what the consequences of that mortgage would be.”

Specifically, Gingras objected to a number of factors in association with the current Phase II application process, including the new, yet-to-be-developed teacher evaluation model, the emphasis on increased numbers of charter schools and the potential for school districts to be left footing the bill for programs and initiatives once the RTTT funds are depleted.

Gingras also expressed disappointment in what he termed R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s lack of reception to suggestions made by NEARI representatives. Gingras likewise alleged that Gist and the R.I. Dept. of Education have perpetuated the erroneous belief that union support is a prerequisite for obtaining Race to the Top Funds when, in fact, it is not.

According to Gingras, a number of Phase I top finishers did not have widespread union support. Gingras acknowledged, however, that the top two Phase I winners, Tennessee and Delaware, did enjoy widespread union support.

Gingras also questioned why the Phase II application does not contain any specific method of teacher evaluation.

“They’ve known about this for a long time now, so why is it tak- ing so long to create an evaluation model?” Gingras asked.

Finally, Gingras objected to the emphasis on developing more charter schools contained in the RTTT application, contending that they will draw funds away from Jamestown’s public schools while at the same time, diverting control away from the local school committee and administration.

Elliot Krieger, speaking on behalf of the commissioner’s office, disagreed almost to a point with the objections laid out by Gingras, Cherney and Petrocelli.

In response to Gingras’ assertion regarding union support as a requirement for RTTT funds, Krieger replied, “Commissioner Gist has never said that it is a requirement. However, we did lose points in the first round because we did not have widespread union support and it would certainly help our chances of succeeding in this round.”

Regarding charter schools, Krieger stated that one portion of the RTTT application asks for a description of innovative measures and initiatives, one of which is the continued development of charter schools.

“We will continue to support innovative charter schools and other public schools,” Krieger said.

He acknowledged that under the proposed new funding formula, the “money follows the student,” so if, in fact, more students were to attend charter schools, then money would be diverted to the charter schools. But, he emphasized, the cost of educating that student would also be diverted to the charter school.

Krieger did not dispute the fact that there is no current teacher evaluation model in place; however, he maintained that the reason for that is because the commissioner would like to have union and teacher involvement in the process of developing the model.

“In December of 2009, the Board of Regents approved the first statewide teacher evaluation standards. All districts will now have to implement these standards and RTTT funding would help us to design that model. The commissioner wants the unions to be part of that design committee,” Krieger said.

In response to Gingras’ assertion that the commissioner has not been receptive to input from NEARI, Krieger pointed to the numerous meetings and discussion forums that have been held over the last several months with NEARI representatives present.

“In preparation for this proposal, we met numerous times with the steering committee, and all of the work drafting the proposal has been done in public. Educators, union leaders and members of the public have all been invited to attend,” he said.

Finally, Krieger acknowledged that RTTT funds are designated for the design and implementation of new initiatives, such as a new teacher evaluation model. When asked whether local communities could, in fact, be left holding the bill for programs implemented through RTTT funds, Krieger replied, “Since RTTT funds are specifically designated for development, I do not foresee that happening at all.”

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